With no stage, no set and only a handful of props, the three actors of Craig Wright’s Lady had the task of captivating their audience with their performances alone. It was a mission that the fearless first-years of Myswyken Salad Theatre Company pulled off with aplomb.
Seniors may recall hearing Craig Wright’s name tossed around three years ago when the theater department staged his most well-known work, Recent Tragic Events, and Wright himself visited campus. Lady is similar to Recent Tragic Events in that it takes on post-9/11 political discourse alongside fragmented relationships and existential angst. Chaz Mayo ’18, Ian Sutherland ’18 and Will Ibele ’18 played Lady’s three middle-aged, longtime friends, whose personal demons break into violence on a weekend hunting trip.
The Art Barn was the perfect venue to convey the suffocating quality of old friendships that can no longer conceal the rage built up over decades. There were no barriers between the audience and the actors; the first-row viewers were only several feet from them, creating a disconcerting sense of intimacy and urgency that complemented the emotional narrative very well.
Three rows of seating on each side of the atrium faced each other in thrust-stage fashion, and due to the natural lighting coming through the Barn’s many windows, the two halves of the audience watched each other’s reactions through the duration of the show. At the play’s dramatic and comedic peaks, this unique visibility allowed the audience members to feed off of each other.
Director Matt Stai ’18 noted that having a small cast in such a compressed, minimal space was tricky. For much of the play, only two of the three actors were onstage at once – and since the narrative was driven by dialogue far more than plot, they needed to be meticulous about their body language.
“For me, I think the greatest challenge with this show was how to keep the action interesting in a show of two people talking on a blank stage,” Stai said. The actors took care to pace the stage area in a way that gave their performances fluidity and dynamism.
If you are not familiar with the Myswyken Salad Theatre Company, it is because it was just born this year. First-years interested in doing theater at St. Olaf found it difficult to access roles in faculty and student-run plays. Rather than resigning themselves to the sidelines, a group of like-minded freshmen found each other in Intro to Acting and formed the company to create more opportunities.
“At the beginning of first semester, we were having trouble being part of department and Deep End shows. Our intention was to make more theater opportunities available,” Sutherland said.
The label “company” is not just a title – it refers to the structure of the group. Stai explained how that model differentiates the group from department and Deep End participants.
“By the company model, we mean a structure where a pre-determined, limited number of theater-makers work together to create shows over a duration. Our company in particular is looking to operate with a minimum of structured hierarchy to encourage a free-flowing artistic dialogue,” Stai said.
“At the beginning of the year, people will audition for the company,” Sutherland said. Most Ole thespians are accustomed to auditioning on a production-by-production basis, but this structure allows the group to draw from a consistent pool of actors.
Though the first-years of Myswyken Salad have plenty of audacity, mentorship from upperclassmen was crucial in launching the group.
“Denzel Belin ’15 and Preston West ’15 helped us a lot,” Sutherland said. Fittingly, Belin was listed in the show’s credits as “Wise Sage.”
Photo Credit:CASEY BOULDIN/MANITOU MESSENGER